School choice bill gets its first hearing in Texas

FILE - Student in a classroom. (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Student in a classroom. (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — On Tuesday, state lawmakers took up one of the most controversial bills this session. The Senate Education Committee held its first hearing on Senate Bill 3, which would re-route millions of dollars from public schools to families who prefer private, religious or home school options.

The first half of the bill proposes an education savings account program. This would allow parents to draw money from state-funded debit cards to cover the cost of “approved” expenses like private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring and software. The only “unapproved expenses” the bill lists are the cost of disposable school supplies like paper and pencils, food and child care.

“It gives parents the freedom to choose where to spend their tax dollars,” Ken Wallace, a parent and supporter of SB 3 said. “I believe it is always better to give somebody a choice on how to spend their money that they worked hard for over some mandate from the government that says your children will go to this other place whether you like it or not, whether it is failing or not.”

Wallace says if SB 3 doesn’t pass he could be forced to pull his two daughters out of the private school they attend in Cedar Park simply because it is too expensive.

“It is expensive to send a kid to a private school. In most cases it is on par with paying for college,” Wallace said. “Even if this bill passes, it is not going to cover the full cost of a private school education, but it would definitely help.”

Under SB 3, families above 200 percent of the poverty line would receive $6,000, and families below that line would receive more than $7,000 per year per student.

“The vouchers and the education savings account is the worst idea that they have ever had so far when it comes to vouchers,” said Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria, who testified in front of lawmakers against SB 3 . “They have zero accountability for our tax dollars.” He says lawmakers should be focusing on improving the state’s public school system, rather than encouraging families to find other schooling options.

“Our focus needs to be on the 5.3 million children that are currently in our public school system,” Candelaria said. “How can we ensure that we have a strong public school system that is going to benefit every child that is impacted in every zip code across the state of Texas, and not pick and choose subsidize.”

The second half of the bill creates a scholarship program that would give tax credits to certain businesses if they make donations toward students’ private school tuition.

A vote is expected when the committee adjourns on Tuesday. If it passes it will then go to the Senate floor for a full vote.

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